Former Paris-Roubaix Champion Magnus Backstedt says he expects the "usual suspects" to feature when the 2010 Classics season gets underway with the Belgian semi-classics Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Bruxelles-Kuurne this weekend.
"The first weekend's always difficult to predict. A number of the really top Classics riders generally aren't going really well as their focus is on the later Spring races," Backstedt told Cyclingnews on Tuesday.
The Swede nominated a number of pedigreed Classics riders as his favourites for this weekend but warned that, like his own career, some big name riders will be several weeks away from peak form. He cited fellow Paris-Roubaix Champion Fabian Cancellara, who will forgo the weekend's racing, as an example of Classic contenders in the latter category.
"I expect the usual suspects, [Philippe] Gilbert, [Stuart] O'Grady, [Filippo] Pozzato to be up there. Personally, I was always focussed on the second Sunday in April [Paris-Roubaix] and guys like Cancellara are still building form for the bigger races to come."
One of the top stars who will be taking part is Tom Boonen. Though beset by personal problems for most of last season, Boonen did triumph at Kuurne for the second time in his career last February. Since 2002, the Belgian has never left the Omloop/Kuurne weekend without a top-ten performance in at least one of the two events. Backstedt sees no reason for this imposing record to continue.
"I think he's got his head together. He was looking fit and prepared in Qatar. Racing in Belgium is obviously very important for him. For some reason, he generally does well in one race and not so well in the other over the weekend, so if he doesn't go well [at Het Nieuwsblad] he'll probably go well on Sunday in Kuurne."
With a nervous bunch lining up to tackle the first cobbles of the new season, the traditional Belgian season openers often prove treacherous, with crashes common. Backstedt said, however, the benefits of participation will generally outweigh the inherent risks.
"It's a good chance to get used to Belgian racing; the cobblestones, the hills and simply just to get into the mindset of the Classics. A lot of the climbs are used in Flanders and you'll generally approach them from the same direction as you'll do in Flanders, so its good preparation for that.
"A lot of guys will use these races to test equipment and those sorts of things for the following weeks. Obviously, there's always a risk when you race in Belgium, but 99.9 per cent of the time it's worth doing these [opening] races."